Stephen Lawrence case clothes 'in same bag'


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The Independent Online

A jacket belonging to Stephen Lawrence was stored in the same outer bag as clothing seized from one of the men suspected of his murder, a court heard today.

Christopher Bower, a stores worker at a forensics laboratory in Lambeth, south London, told the Old Bailey that it was not standard practice to separate victims' and suspects' exhibits after they had been examined by scientists.

Gary Dobson, 36, and David Norris, 35, deny taking part in the gang attack in which Mr Lawrence was killed in Eltham, south-east London, in 1993.

The prosecution argues that tiny amounts of fibres, blood and hair found on clothes seized from their homes prove they were involved in the murder of the 18-year-old student.

The defence says the samples got on to the clothes through contamination during handling and storage.

Mr Bower told the Old Bailey that, when exhibits in the case were returned to police from the lab in November 1995, a cardigan and jacket seized from Dobson's house were put in the same plastic sack as Mr Lawrence's black Raiders jacket.

However, all the items were sealed individually in paper evidence sacks, he told the court.

During cross-examination, Timothy Roberts QC, for Dobson, asked him: "When you made a choice as to which packages should go into the same overbag together, what criteria informed that choice?

Mr Bower replied: "There was no criteria - random packages from the same case would go into an overbag."

Later Mr Roberts asked him: "There was no anxiety in your storeroom about these packages being co-mingled together?"

Mr Bower said: "Not at all, no."

The jury was also told that at one point a knife found near the murder scene was put in the same outer bag as jeans seized from Norris's house.

Again, the items were individually sealed in paper sacks within the larger plastic bag.

Detective Chief Inspector John Carnt told the court that he could not remember whether clothing exhibits were removed from their packaging during the private prosecution brought by Mr Lawrence's family in 1996.

However, there were hand-written notes on the packaging of the jacket and cardigan seized from Dobson's house that they had been opened for barristers to view.

Mr Carnt could not recall if he or the lawyers wore gloves during the examination.

Kent Police took possession of key exhibits in 1997 while looking into complaints about the conduct of Met officers during the first murder investigation.

Deborah Doe, then a detective inspector for Kent Police, said some of the exhibits had to be re-sealed before they were returned to the Met in January 1998.

She said: "There may have been deterioration of the packaging which might have needed to be sealed over so that it wasn't exposing any of the contents."

The exhibits where the seals needed repair included the cardigan and jacket taken from Dobson's house, the jury was told.

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.